The first time I was diagnosed with exhaustion, I was in college and the doctor told me to sleep for two days. The difference in how I felt was remarkable and soon I was back to my break neck pace. By the third time I was diagnosed with exhaustion, I was the mother of two under three, and the solution was not so simple. My doctor informed me I needed a lifestyle change. I needed to be in bed by 9:00 pm on a regular basis.
Okay. Full confession. I have tried my best to make it to bed early, but fail to do so way more often than not. I naturally love working at night. I like the quiet calm and my creativity is at its best at night. Well, I should clarify that it is usually at its best at night. Since my most recent bout of exhaustion, I have noticed that my originality (Ideation No. 1) has suffered greatly, and my ability to get into the flow while creating has been severely stunted.
How did I get here? I did it to myself.
I often struggle with the balance between taking care of myself, and the long list of things I need to do.
When it comes to self-care, it seems I am my own worst enemy at times. My Achiever strength (No. 6) can cause me to create an endless to do list that I never seem to finish. My Focus strength (No. 3) can cause me to become so absorbed in work that I forget to eat or go to bed at a decent hour. My Significance strength (No. 2) can cause me to become impatient with trivial things that do not add value or impact to my legacy goals.
Without being incredibly intentional, I do not rest well. I push myself too hard, I say yes too often, and I lose focus on what is really important.
Sadly, I am not alone.
Elon Musk, billionaire and Tesla CEO, has become famous for sleeping at the Telsa factory, and working 120 hour weeks. He made headlines when he admitted that he only gets 6 hours of sleep each night. Wellness guru Arianna Huffington, recently wrote a public letter to Musk in which she challenged Musk to slow down. Musk tweeted back at 2:30 am “You think this is an option. It is not."
How many of us feel like Musk? Perhaps not in such an excessive manner, but to some degree, how many times have you heard someone say, “I’d like to take a vacation, but leaving work just isn’t an option right now.” Or, "I have to go into the office this Saturday, because I have some work to catch up on."
According to Dana Chapman, co-founder of The Conscious Leadership Group, “Lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and not getting enough exercise are a terrible recipe for burnout.”
The Mayo Clinic defines mental and physical exhaustion as burnout. And burnout causes you an inability to deal with your personal and professional life, as well as putting you at risk for physical and mental health issues.
So how do you recognize burnout and how do you deal with it?
The symptoms of burnout are many, and they are scary. Here are two great articles you can read to find out if you are suffering from burnout:
But let me quickly break it down for you.
Burnout is also defined as chronic stress that leads to:
physical and emotional exhaustion
cynicism and detachment
feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
While this neat list may not seem too bad at first glance, we are talking terrible side effects, such as insomnia, depression, anxiety and increased illness. You can also suffer from loss of enjoyment, detachment, feelings of hopelessness and a decline in your productivity and performance. Not to mention health risks such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
In fact, sleep loss alone has its own list of terrifying side effects: pre-mature aging or death, brain damage and even genetic changes to name a few.
And that isn’t all. One of the most unsettling side-effects of burnout is that it can cause a loss of personal identity.
Imagine becoming so physically and mentally tired, cynical and detached from your life, that you forget who you are? Failing to recall the unique value you add to the world and the blend of special strengths that make up your persona?
Burnout causes us to become less than ourselves, which means all of our talent and added value is muted, or forgotten all together.
As Jennifer Hamady states in her Psychology Today article: “I now realize, however, that a lack of sleep and rest can not only dull and mute some of our more positive traits and tendencies, but handicap them entirely.”
Ever see the dark side of Achiever? Significance? Positivity? I have and it is terrible. The world needs us to operate as our best self, not at our worst.
The possible causes of burnout are numerous, and can include things like:
Unclear job expectations
Dysfunctional workplace dynamics
While any employee can be at risk for burnout, it is an extreme risk to those who are high-achievers.
“Because high-achievers are often so passionate about what they do, they tend to ignore the fact that they're working exceptionally long hours, taking on exceedingly heavy workloads, and putting enormous pressure on themselves to excel—all of which make them ripe for burnout.”
Not to point any fingers (Elon Musk), but I have to admit I fall prey to this seductive mentality myself. I take pride in my work, I am passionate about it. I don’t know when to say no. I let my productivity and performance define me, and I am never satisfied with all I have accomplished, I just push on to do more.
The result of burnout is a “dangerous path,” one that Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter of High Octane Women points out, “isn’t like the flu, it doesn’t go away after a few weeks unless you make some changes in your life”.
The cure for burnout isn’t simple. It may take help from a licensed professional, and it will take time. It will most definitely include intentional rest and stress reduction. And most of all, it will require a lifestyle change.
The defense rests.
Noticing early warning signs of burnout? Barreling towards your burnout tipping point, but not sure if you can commit to a lasting change?
I would argue that you should reconsider. I have felt the same way, and the more I consider the options, the more I realize there really isn’t a choice.
Not if I want to operate from a place of strength, instead of allowing my strengths to go dark.
Not if I want to be healthy and present for my kids.
Not if I want to be able to pursue my passion in a work that I love.
I owe it to my family and friends to be the best version of myself that I can be.
I owe it to my creator to honor the gifts He has fashioned within me.
And, I owe it to myself. I deserve rest, a healthy body and mind, and a clear personal identity.
And so do you.
So to start, I am going to end this blog early. There is more research and interesting facts that I researched and I know I could include- but its 11:45 pm, and I am way past my doctor-mandated bedtime, so I am going to call it a night and go to bed.
I highly recommend you do the same.
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